2.2.7 Viral Erythrocytic Necrosis

2.2.7 Viral Erythrocytic Necrosis - 1
2.2.7 Viral Erythrocytic Necrosis
J. R. Winton1 and P. K. Hershberger2
USGS Western Fisheries Research Center
6505 NE 65th Street
Seattle, WA 98115
USGS Marrowstone Marine Field Station
616 Marrowstone Point Road
Nordland, WA 98358
A. Name of Disease and Etiological Agent
Viral erythrocytic necrosis (VEN), originally termed piscine erythrocytic necrosis, is a condition that has
been reported to affect the red blood cells (RBCs) of many species of marine and anadromous fishes in
both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (Nicholson and Reno 1981; Smail 1982; Wolf 1988; Dannevig
and Thorud 1999). Fish with VEN may develop a severe anemia that can reduce their stamina,
predispose them to other infections or increase the impact of other stressors (MacMillan et al. 1980;
Nicholson and Reno 1981; Meyers et al. 1986; Haney et al. 1992) resulting in population-scale impacts
in susceptible species (Hershberger et al. 2009).
In spite of extensive efforts, the etiological agent of VEN has not been propagated in fish cell lines
making its characterization difficult. However, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) of red blood
cells from diseased fish convincingly demonstrates the presence of iridovirus-like particles that have been
given the name erythrocytic necrosis virus (ENV). While the ENV virions in red blood cells of various
species of fish from differing geographic locations may appear morphologically distinct (Smail 1982;
Wolf 1988), at least one strain of ENV has now been partially sequenced, confirming it to be a member of
the family Iridoviridae (Emmenegger et al. in press). However, the genetic relatedness of ENV from
various fish hosts has not yet been investigated.
B. Known Geographical Range and Host Species of the Disease
1. Geographical Range
The geographic range of VEN is potentially global in the marine environment, although the majority
of reports have involved marine or anadromous fish collected from coastal areas of the North Atlantic
and North Pacific Oceans.
2. Host Species
The host range of ENV has been reported to extend through one or more species in families as diverse
as hagfish, lampreys, sharks, skates and rays, and the bony fish (Wolf 1988). Among teleosts, virions or
cytoplasmic inclusions typical of ENV have been observed in the RBCs of more than 20 marine or
anadromous species (Dannevig and Thorud 1999). Experimental infections with ENV have
demonstrated differences in host susceptibility (Evelyn and Traxler 1978; MacMillan and Mulcahy
1979; Reno et al. 1985). Although cross-species transmission has been performed experimentally,
differences in virus strains or the effects of temperature on host susceptibility and disease
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progression have not been explored.
C. Epizootiology
An inability to isolate and propagate ENV using cell lines has resulted in a limited epizootiological
understanding of the resulting disease. The causative virus is presumed to be maintained in populations
of marine fish where infections are believed to be acquired via horizontal transmission from infected
cohorts (Hershberger et al. 2009) and this route of transmission has been demonstrated experimentally
(MacMillan and Mulcahy 1979; Nicholson and Reno 1981). However, inclusions and virus particles have
been detected in juvenile salmonids reared exclusively in fresh water leading Rohovec and Amandi
(1981) to speculate on the possibility of vertical transmission from infected anadromous adults.
Fish infected with ENV show variable levels of disease which may be related to route and intensity of
exposure, stage of infection or relative host susceptibility. Laboratory infections of susceptible species
have shown that the effects of VEN can persist for an extended period (Haney et al. 1992; Hershberger et
al. 2006; Glenn et al. 2012) with significant deficits in physiological and hematological parameters that
make them more susceptible to secondary infections or stressors (MacMillan et al. 1980; Nicholson and
Reno 1981; Haney et al. 1992). In natural epizootics associated with significant mortality, VEN is often
seen in conjunction with other infections (Hershberger et al. 2006) or in association with severe stressors
such as low dissolved oxygen and low salinity (Meyers et al 1986). A multi-year field study revealed that
VEN was associated with a population-level loss in Pacific herring and suggested the disease can be an
important component of natural mortality in some species of marine fish (Hershberger et al. 2009).
D. Disease Signs
The most common and consistent disease sign among the species affected is anemia, which can be
observed externally as pale gills (Figure 1) and internally as a general pallor of visceral organs. In severe
cases, hematocrits may be as low as 2 to 10% leading to coagulopathy, and stained blood smears reveal
severe blood dyscrasias characterized by erythroblastosis, leucocytosis, erythroid cell destruction and
cytoplasmic inclusions of differing morphology in erythrocytes and erythroblasts (Reno et al. 1985;
MacMillan et al 1989). The percentage of erythrocytes demonstrating inclusions can range from less
than 1% in normal-appearing fish to 100% in fish experiencing severe anemia. Fish with clinical VEN
also show greatly reduced stamina and losses are often associated with secondary infections (Hershberger
et al. 2006) or the inability of ENV-infected fish to deal with stressors (Meyers et al. 1986).
E. Disease Diagnostic Procedures
1. Presumptive Diagnosis
Because ENV has proven refractory to isolation using any of the numerous fish cell lines tested,
the presumptive diagnosis of VEN depends on observation of inclusion bodies in the cytoplasm of
infected erythrocytes. Blood smears are made, air dried, fixed for five minutes in absolute methanol,
stained with Giemsa, Wright, or other standard blood stains and examined by light microscopy for the
presence of cytoplasmic inclusion bodies that are typically paranuclear, single, and range in size from
1 to 4 um in diameter (Figure 2).
Although best known as a stain for observation of inclusions in the RBCs of salmon with erythrocytic
inclusion body syndrome (EIBS), pinacyanol chloride (Leek 1987) has also been used to stain blood
smears for VEN diagnosis. If blood is not available for examination, stained smears prepared from
blood-rich tissues such as kidney or spleen can be used.
Methanol/ethanol (1:1) fixed smears can also be rehydrated in a graded ethanol series (100%, 70%,
and 50%), stained with 0.1% aqueous acridine orange and washed in phosphate buffered saline to
aid in differentiating inclusions of EIBS from those of VEN. Inclusions of VEN stain green: those of
EIBS stain orange.
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2. Confirmatory Diagnosis
A confirmed diagnosis of VEN depends on transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to observe
iridovirus-like particles within the cytoplasm of erythrocytes using methods described by Glenn et al.
(2012). In thin sections, the classically described virion outer coat is typically hexagonal in outline and
there is usually a closely apposed inner coat that surrounds a centrally-located circular nucleoid (Figure
3). The reported diameters of the ENV virions in teleosts range from 145 nm in the Atlantic herring to
330 nm in the Atlantic cod (Walker and Sherburne 1977; Nicholson and Reno 1981).
3. Molecular Assays
A standard PCR assay has been developed using genomic sequences of a strain of ENV from Pacific
herring in Puget Sound, Washington (Emmenegger et al. in press). The assay has not yet been tested
using samples from VEN-affected fish in other regions of the world.
F. Procedures for Detecting Subclinical Infections
There is currently no practical method for detection of low-grade or subclinical infections.
G. Procedures for Determining Prior Exposure to the Etiological Agent
No procedures have been reported.
H. Procedures for Transportation and Storage of Samples to Ensure Maximum
Viability and Survival of the Etiological Agent
It is best to make blood smears on site and fix them with absolute methanol before transporting to a
laboratory. If blood is to be examined by transmission electron microscopy, 10 to 20 units of heparin must
be added per mL of blood and the samples should be transported on ice and placed in Hawke's fixative
within 48 hours of collection (Rohovec and Amandi 1981).
I. Procedures for Enumeration of ENV
Enumeration of ENV in erythrocytes of fish relies on TEM examination of fixed blood or bloodcontaining tissues using methods provided by Glenn et al. (2012) who reported that inclusion numbers do
not agree well with estimates of virus load based upon TEM observation of blood or hematopoietic tissues.
J. Procedures for Determination of Disease-free Status
None are available.
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Figure 1. Gills of Pacific herring experimentally infected with ENV (top); note the pale color due to the severe
anemia. Bottom fish is an uninfected control. Photo by Paul Hershberger.
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Figure 2. Red blood cells of Pacific herring experimentally infected with ENV. Note the presence of inclusion
bodies (arrows) in a high percentage of erythrocytes. Photo by Paul Hershberger
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Figure 3. Ultrathin section of a red blood cell viewed by transmission electron microscopy. Note the electrondense core of the icosahedral virions typical of iridoviruses. Bar equals 300nm. Photo by Jim
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